When a scientist falls for a religious man in the newest Welcome to Night Vale novel, things get weird. Nilanjana is no ordinary scientist; her current obsession is studying a house that doesn’t exist. And Darryl is no ordinary acolyte; he’s a member of the cultish Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. So when their paths cross, they’re tossed into a chain of bizarre events that could only happen in dear old Night Vale.
Created by Joseph Fink (left in photo) and Jeffrey Cranor in 2012, Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast presented as a radio show set in the fictional town of Night Vale. The podcast has been downloaded over 170 million times in the past five years, and it’s also been adapted into a touring live show performed in 16 countries. Fink and Cranor released the first Night Vale novel, also titled Welcome to Night Vale, in 2015, and now they’ve returned with their sophomore tome, It Devours!
Paste caught up with Fink and Cranor at BookCon this summer to discuss It Devours!, which hit shelves this week. Check out the highlights from the interview below:
On why they chose Nilanjana Sikdar as the novel’s protagonist:
Jeffrey Cranor: We thought one of Carlos’ scientists would be interesting, because we haven’t really followed individual scientists [in the podcast]. It’s always just, “My team of scientists.” So we grabbed a scientist from the first book and figured out what her story was. We have this whole lore about the Smiling God, and we wanted to explore that more, too. So we wanted to take religion and science and play around with where they overlap and where they conflict.
On the tension between religion in science in the novel:
Cranor: It’s a topic Joseph and I have had lots and lots of conversations about ever since we’ve known each other. He was a Religious Studies major. I grew up in Baptist churches in the South. We both believe very strongly in science as well.
As scientific knowledge progresses, it by nature strips away the unknown. Religion has always served the purpose of finding a reason for things we don’t know. Definitely not in our lifetimes, and probably not in the course of human history, will we understand every single thing. We’d probably collapse on ourselves if we did. So there’s always going to be some element of religion needing to serve that purpose, and finding where that line is drawn is a really fascinating area.
Joseph Fink: I was raised by a [math professor] mom who was very into science in that, as a kid, she took me to astronomy conventions. But at the same time, we were religiously Jewish, and that was really important. My mom actually converted before she married my dad, so I was raised by a mom who was very into science and very into Judaism. I think Judaism is especially amicable to that; it’s a religion that makes that pretty easy, because it’s a lot more based on practice than belief.
I grew up going to synagogue every week; my dad was a musician at the synagogue. But at the same time, I was also sitting in on my mom’s math classes. So they’re both subjects that I have a lot of love and respect for. I don’t think they’re subjects that are necessarily at odds at all. I think they’re at odds when people are at odds with each other for other reasons, and they use that as an excuse. So this book is about that conflict, but it’s not about the good or bad in that conflict.
On how a religious tract became one of their favorite parts of the novel:
Cranor: Jessica Hayworth has done a lot of really great t-shirts and posters for us; she’s really tremendous. We asked Jessica to make us a Jack Chick-style tract for [the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God]. She found this really wonderful level of simplicity and creepiness; it’s really beautiful.
Fink: I absolutely agree with that; Jessica Hayworth continually delights us every time we worked with her. It’s always not what I would have thought of, but it’s perfect—which is exactly what you want from a collaborator.
On how Terry Pratchett inspired their standalone novels:
Cranor: If somebody says, “I really love this cover” or “I love this description, I’m going to read this,” we don’t want a story where they need to be caught up on 100 episodes of a podcast to get into it. What’s important to us it to have a self-contained story within the covers of a book.
Obviously, you don’t want to ignore the world you’ve built over five years. So we wanted to do something like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, where you could jump around. Or David Mitchell and his novels; he’s done this really interesting thing where his novels connect to one another, but you don’t have to read them in any particular order.
On the future of Night Vale:
Cranor: I say this all the time: We have really amazing jobs. We get to make these podcasts and books and live shows as our job. So I’m in no hurry to give that up. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. As long as we can have the time and energy and love of doing it, we want to keep doing it. We currently have all of those except the time, but we’re figuring it out.
On sharing details about the third Night Vale novel in the works:
Cranor: I would love to, because I’m really excited about it. But I can’t!
Cranor and Fink also shared a list of book recommendations for Night Vale fans when we chatted this summer. You can read about their picks here.